The ultimate paradox of childhood is that boys and girls want to be led by their parents but insist that their mothers and fathers earn the right to lead them.
~Dr. James Dobson
Right about the time my first baby was born, Dr. James Dobson released his updated version of The Strong-Willed Child. The title intrigued me because I’d overheard my mother reference me as a strong-willed child once or twice and figured there was a high probability of passing that gene on to my son. By the time my newborn was two weeks old, it was obvious I needed Dr. Dobson’s book! Forget the child part, I had a strong-willed infant!
As I’ve been a mom to that firstborn for going on 15 years, I’ve realized raising a strong-willed child takes being a strong-willed mom. Actually, raising kids in general no matter their temperament takes strong-willed parenting.
One essential quality of a strong-willed parent is setting and upholding firm boundaries.
In other words, doing what you said you would do.
Kids push. And push and push and push. You draw a line, and a strong-willed child wants to cross it one way or another.
If I were to draw a literal line in the sand and tell my kids, Do not cross this line, I would get the following responses:
My oldest would promptly and defiantly jump over the line and say Like this? His posture saying What are you gonna do about it?
My second would say OK, then five minutes later accidentally stumble over the line and say, Is this the line I’m not supposed to cross? (cheesy grin) I didn’t see it. Sorry… I forgot!
My third would say, impishly, Which line? This line? And do a series of hops back and forth, over the line making it a game.
Three different kids, three different responses, but each strong-willed in their own way.
So as moms and dads, what do we do?
When our kids cross the line, it’s important to do what we said we would do.
Let’s say you are at gymnastics watching one of your children do cartwheels and hand stands and your toddler wants to play with your phone. He’s digging around in your purse, pulling on your shirt, using all the grunt words he knows, hoping you’ll give in and hand him the phone. But you don’t want him to have it. So you firmly say No, you cannot have my phone, but you can have ____ and pull out a magical toy from the bag.
That doesn’t work. He throws the other toy down the bleachers and hollers louder for the phone. And now everyone is looking at you and you don’t know what you should do. Do you keep the peace in the room and give the child the phone or stick to your word and repeat your answer?
It’s the situation we all dread.
I’ve been there myself. Frankly it’s embarrassing and makes you feel like you’re in a no-win situation. But you’re not. Don’t lose hope! Instead, determine to be just as strong-willed as your child, in fact, be one morsel more stubborn.
Sometimes parenting is like the game Red Rover. The child “coming over” identifies the weakest link in the chain of hands to bust through. In the same way, kids identify our weak links and then push and push until they break through and get their way.
Over the years, I learned that no matter how loudly my child screamed, I had to stick to my word. If I gave in and in this example let my son have the phone after I already said no, he wins! And my credibility is gone! He has just figured out how to break through and get his way and he will do it over and over again.
Which brings up another point: Saying no to your child is OK! We live in a kid-first culture that makes you feel like the bad parent when you don’t give your kids something they want. That is not true.
When you say no, you create an imaginary boundary line. You draw a line in the sand. You’re saying you can freely play in this area with this toy but not over there with that one. And this is good. Kids need firm boundaries. We see God setting boundaries in creation.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17
God laid out a firm boundary line, with clear consequences of what would happen if the line was crossed. And we all know what happened next!
And because of this event, our kids have a sinful nature that we must take into account. So when we tell our kids no, we have to be ready for how they will respond to the line we just drew. Will they defiantly and promptly cross it? Will they forget and accidentally cross it later? Will they make it a game and cross it in fun? Or will they do something in between?
Either way, are you ready to stick to your word no matter how many eyes of other moms gaze upon you? Your inner confidence as a mom or dad comes into play here. How strongly you believe in your boundary line will determine how well you stick to what you say and trust me, kids sense these things!
With God’s grace, we can be just as strong-willed as they are and hold our ground, because we love them and believe it’s best for them!
Let’s start the conversation…feel free to answer in the comments section. Your answer may help someone else.
How do you (generally) respond to situations like the cell phone scenario mentioned above?
What is something practical you do when your child screams over something he/she wants in public? Like in the grocery store. How do you not give in to them?
How does your child respond to boundaries?
Are boundaries important to you? Why or why not?